Insurance and cancer

What is insurance?

Insurance is a financial product. Buying insurance can protect you against financial loss. It will pay out money if you are too ill to work, or it will provide for your family if you die.

When you buy insurance, you take out an insurance policy. This is a contract between you and the insurance company (the insurer).

Your policy means you are protected against losing money in certain situations. This protection is called cover. Your insurance policy document will list exactly what you are protected against, and how much money you will be paid. It will also list what you are not protected against.

You will make regular payments for your policy to the insurer. This is usually every month or every year. These payments are called premiums. How much they are will depend on your situation and the type of cover you need.

If the event or situation you are protected against happens, you can contact your insurer to make a claim on your insurance policy.

If your policy covers the situation you are claiming for, your insurer will give you money. This is called a payout.

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Can I get insurance after a cancer diagnosis?

If you already have a health problem before buying insurance, insurers call this a pre-existing condition. Your policy may say that you must declare any pre-existing medical conditions. If it does, you will need to tell your insurer if you are living with cancer or have had cancer.

You may be asked some difficult questions about your health. Or you may be asked to have a medical examination. While unfair discrimination is illegal, insurers can treat a person differently if their medical condition means they are more likely to make a claim. But they can only do this if the assessment of your risk of claiming is based on relevant evidence. Insurers will need to show they have this.

You should not have problems getting insurance that is not related to your health, such as home insurance.

You can call the Macmillan Support Line on 0808 808 00 00 and speak to our financial guides team about insurance, including if you wish to make a complaint.

What questions will insurers ask?

When you talk to insurers, you may be asked some difficult or upsetting questions about your health. For example, they may ask about the likely outcome of your cancer (prognosis). This can sometimes seem insensitive. However, insurers may need to do this to decide whether they are able to offer you a policy, and how much it will cost.

Depending on how you feel when talking about the cancer, you may find it easier to contact only one or two companies at a time. Or you could contact an insurance broker or financial adviser who can do the research for you.

Preparing for questions

The checklist below includes examples of some of the things an insurance provider might want to know. Having the answers to these questions can help you prepare for contacting providers.

You may want to write down:

  • any health conditions you have
  • the results of any recent tests or scans
  • how long ago the diagnosis was
  • where the cancer is or was
  • whether the cancer has spread, and if so, where to
  • whether you are currently having treatment, or whether there is treatment planned
  • whether you have had surgery in the past or have surgery planned
  • any medication you are currently on
  • any current symptoms and side effects
  • how advanced the cancer is and whether it is terminal
  • details of GP, hospital or specialist visits in relation to the cancer in the past year.

Is cancer covered by health insurance?

Private medicine insurance (PMI) covers acute medical conditions. There can be confusion about whether cancer is an acute medical condition or not.

Macmillan Cancer support has worked with the Association of British Insurers (ABI) to make sure PMI insurers have separate section that explain the cover for cancer using agreed examples. You will need to check the wording of the policy. It may be helpful to discuss it with the insurer.

You must get the insurer's approval for any course of treatment before it goes ahead. If not, the insurer may refuse to pay.

What happens if I am likely to claim?

If your situation means you are more likely than the average person to make an insurance claim, this can affect what an insurer will offer you. An insurer may do one of the following.

  • Refuse to insure you

    If you are struggling to find insurance cover, an insurance broker might be able to help you. To find an insurance broker, contact the British Insurance Brokers' Association (BIBA) 0370 950 1790, Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.

  • Charge you a higher premium

    If you have a medical condition, life insurance or health insurance might cost more. This is because the insurer may increase the premium to match the increase in risk.

  • Apply an excess

    An excess is an amount of money you have to pay towards the cost of making an insurance claim.

  • Apply an exclusion

    An exclusion is something that is not covered by the insurance policy. So there is no payout if it happens. This could include specific health issues such as cancer. This means there would be no payout for anything related to the health issue that is excluded. If you choose a policy with exclusions based on your medical history, it is important to understand what is covered and what is not.

  • Agree to review at a later date

    If you are still having tests or treatment, an insurer might refuse to give you cover straight away. However, they may agree to review your application at a later time, when you know more about your diagnosis or have finished treatment.

You may find it helpful to write down the contact details of each provider you talk to, and some of the important aspects of each policy. You can compare the excess costs and the quotes that different providers give you. This may help you decide on the best insurance policy for your situation.

What is unfair discrimination?

Cancer is recognised by law as a disability.

  • If you live in England, Scotland or Wales, you are protected by the Equality Act 2010.
  • If you live in Northern Ireland, you are protected by the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.

These acts make it illegal to treat people differently because of a disability. They protect you against discrimination even after you have been successfully treated for cancer. But there are different rules for insurance.

An insurer can treat a person with a disability differently if the disability increases the risk of them making a claim. But they can only do this if:

  • the assessment of your risk of claiming is based on relevant information
  • the information is from a reliable source, such as statistical data or medical reports
  • the way the insurer treats the person is reasonable, given the information available.

If the insurer is challenged, they have to provide evidence to show that they have met these conditions.

For information and support about unfair discrimination because of cancer, contact:

Can I get holiday insurance if I have cancer?

A cancer diagnosis can impact the cost of buying travel insurance. When buying travel insurance, you need to check whether the policy will cover claims related to pre-existing medical conditions, including cancer. There are some companies that specialise in providing this kind of travel insurance.

We have a travel insurance checklist which includes examples of things your insurer might want to know, and things you might want to know.

Related pages

How much does cancer insurance cost?

There are different types of health insurance. If you have cancer, health insurance might cost more. We have more information about the different types of insurance, including health insurance.

What is the best cancer insurance plan?

An insurer broker or financial adviser can help you compare health insurance plans from different providers. When you are choosing a broker or adviser, always check that they are reliable and trustworthy. The British Insurance Broker’s association has a list of brokers. You can call them on 0370 950 1790, Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.

If you have further questions about cancer insurance plans, you can call the Macmillan Support Line on 0808 808 00 00 and speak to our financial guides team.

How we can help

Macmillan Support Line
The Macmillan Support Line is a free and confidential phone service for people living and affected by cancer. If you need to talk, we'll listen. 


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